Free radicals and your skin

Free radicals and your skin

Do you have sagging skin, dullness, fine lines, or dark spots?  Or maybe you're "lucky" enough to have all of the above?

Can you blame aging?

Yes, of course. But it’s a little more complicated than that. Just because you’re getting older (we all are), doesn’t mean you’re doomed to less-than-healthy skin.

Only 10% of the visible signs of skin aging are due to age alone.

90% can be blamed on environmental and lifestyle factors. Like too much sun exposure, pollution, smoking, and toxins from chemicals.

What do all of those things have in common for your skin?

They produce free radicals or oxidative stress which are two terms that basically mean the same thing.

It’s true that as the years go by, you’re exposed to more of the things that cause free radical damage, so you have more it.

But, luckily, it’s also something you have some influence over. 

What is free radical skin damage?

Remember high school chemistry class?

Free radicals are simply atoms that are missing one of their electrons. Electrons like to be paired and orbiting their atoms. When this is the case, everybody’s happy and stable.

When something happens to breakdown the structure of an atom (UV sunlight, pollution, smoke, toxins, and some natural bodily processes), the electrons can lose their partners. Unpaired electrons are unstable and are on the hunt.

The damage happens when the unstable electron tries to replace that missing electron by stealing it from one of the skin’s molecules. Your skin’s cells are the perfect targets because they’re constantly exposed to outside environmental challenges.

Once the electron is stolen to stabilize the free radical, the skin cell’s DNA becomes mutated. When the mutated cell reproduces, a copy of the mutation is created which can worsen skin conditions like hyperpigmentation and melanoma. 

The process has been compared to forcing unmatched pieces of a puzzle together. The eventual result is damage to your skin’s health and looks.

The damage appears on the skin in the form of wrinkles, sagging, dryness, dullness and unwanted pigmentation, like age spots and broken blood vessels.

UV rays from the sun are the biggest culprit in free radical damage, but pollution, blue light, cigarette smoke, some chemicals and normal bodily processes (to a small degree) also contribute to skin damage from free radicals.

If want to get a good visual of how it works, think about an apple slice. Slicing the apple damages the cells and exposes it to oxygen. The apple cells experience oxidative stress (free radical production) and the apple slice eventually turns brown.

Your skin experiences a similar progression when it’s continuously exposed to free radicals over time. 

What You Can Do To Fight Free Radical Damage

The good news is that with proper care, you can stop a lot of free radical damage before it happens.

Just like coating that apple slice with lemon juice (an antioxidant) can dramatically slow down the browning, protecting your skin every day and using antioxidants in your diet and skin care can slow down free radical damage to your skin.

Sun protection is your first line of defense.

Of all the things that cause free radicals, the sun is the main culprit.

Both UVA and UVB rays cause damage and free radicals, so wearing a broad spectrum sunscreen every single day is critical to your skin’s long term health.

Remember even on cloudy or rainy days, UVA rays are present and damaging your skin. UVA rays can also penetrate glass so even if you’re indoors, it’s a good idea to wear sunscreen if you work near a window.

No sunscreen filters out all of the UV rays. And pollution and chemicals also damage your skin.

That’s why antioxidants are your second line of defense.

What Antioxidants Can Do for You

Antioxidants neutralize free radicals by providing the extra electron for the free radical to grab onto or by breaking down the free radical and making it harmless. Which allows the skin to stay healthy and radiant.

Here's what else they can do:

  • Prevent and correct some of the damage done by free radicals (sagging from collagen breakdown, fine lines, wrinkles, uneven skin tone, breakouts
  • Enhance protection against sun damage by limiting inflammation and free radical production (but you still need sunscreen!!!)
  • Help skin repair itself by cutting down on inflammation
  • Brighten skin tone. Vitamin C is especially good for this
  • Help to prevent skin cancer by neutralizing those damaging free radicals. Vitamins A, C, and E are all antioxidants and have anti-carcinogenic properties.

Best Antioxidants for your Skin

Your body needs nutrients from a variety of sources, and so does your skin.

There are great ingredients from the plant world that act as antioxidants in your diet and on your skin. In no particular order, they are:

  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin A (retinol)
  • Vitamin E
  • Plant polyphenols (green tea and berries are the best known)
  • Vitamin B3
  • Resveratrol
  • CoQ10
  • Curcumin
  • Most adaptogenic herbs are antioxidants (and anti-inflammatory) 

When it comes to using antioxidants in your skincare, the evidence is clear.

Antioxidants are an essential part of the skin’s diet and the more you layer on, the better it will be for your skin. Especially if you spend time outdoors or are exposed to environmental stressors (who isn’t?).

 Sunscreen and antioxidants are the best tools for preventing free radical damage to your skin and keeping it healthy and radiant as you age.



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